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Livingston's Return This Season in Doubt

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At the end of my injury post yesterday I mentioned parenthetically that Livingston's rehab might not be going "as well as hoped".  When Citizen mp asked in the comments what I meant by that I responded as follows:

Basically, I'm reading between the lines from an update in the OCR ... from Art Thompson.  Shaun's next exam is March 6 in SF.  If he's not being examed until then, 6 weeks from the end of the season, there's little chance he'll see significant game action this season.  So, although it may be going fine in terms of eventual recovery, the idea of having him on the court for more than a handful of games seems unrealistic.

Jonathon Abrams, writing in today's LA Times, says essentially the same thing.  According to Abrams:

Even if Livingston was immediately cleared for practice after his March 6 examination and underwent two weeks of full contact drills, only 15 games would remain on the schedule.
When will we see this again?
                                           © Henry Chen, all rights reserved
All true.  And completely unrealistic that he would go straight to contact drills at any rate.  Elton Brand was cleared for running and jumping on Jan. 24.  Here we are more than three weeks later at the All Star break and he has yet to participate in a practice with the team, let alone a full contact practice.  Everything is moving slowly.

Of course, there's not a lot of incentive to move quickly.  We all know the advantages of losing - make multiple references to quality losses and 'Advanced Tanking Theory'.  Still, professional athletes and coaches tend to be pretty competitive guys.  None of them want to go into a game and lose - they don't like it.  But the simple, logical and completely justifiable way to get more ping pong balls is with less Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston.  In fact, there's a mathematical formula for it:  PP = x / EB (but I'm not sure what the value of x is yet).  I'm not saying that's the only reason they're not back (and in Livingston's case it certainly seems otherwise).  But it's one of the reasons to be sure.

The motivations involved in this process are myriad and often contradictory.  The players want to get back first and foremost because they want to play; but they certainly don't want to push too hard and risk re-injury.  Then there is the money.  With both of them potentially free agents this summer, they might want to get on the court to demonstrate their value to other teams.  On the other hand, they could both spend one more year with the Clippers (Brand in the form of his player option, Livingston with the qualifying offer from his rookie contract) to erase any doubts that might linger for teams looking to make a long term commitment to a player returning from injury.

As for the other actors, one might assume that Elgin Baylor would be desperate to see this team play together sooner rather than later.  But maybe not.  The worst case scenario for Baylor (and MDsr as well) is that Brand and Livingston play for a month - and the Clippers continue to lose.  If you say, "I know we suck, but we have so many players hurt" then you had better not suck when the players come back.  If Donald T. is serious about making changes, he'd have every justification to do so if the Clippers went, say, 5-10 in their final 15 games with Brand and Livingston in the lineup.

It's important to keep Livingston's recovery in perspective.  When I say it's not going as well as we'd hoped, it's not a failure in his recovery process so much as in our 'hope' process.  (Stupid audacity of hope!)  As far as I know, there have been no setbacks in his rehab - everything is going fine.  It's just that, well, he's got this entirely new knee, and it takes time.  It's not quite a year since the injury - did anyone honestly think he'd be playing in a year as you watched that replay?

When Shaun had his last exam in Alabama on January 8, Dr. Andrews adjusted the types of exercises they wanted him doing - a subtle admission that everyone was being overly optimistic.  At that time as reported by Art Thompson in the OCR, the next exam with Andrews was set for March (although Andy Roeser implied they might want one sooner):

Although Livingston said that he would not return to Alabama until March to have his knee re-evaluated, Clippers president Andy Roeser said Wednesday night the team likely will schedule an examination with Andrews for Livingston [in February].

Obviously that February exam did not happen, and although it seems like a really long time to wait, this March exam in three weeks was apparently Dr. Andrews' plan all along.  And while I'm sure that Jasen Powell and Tony Daly are capable of determining a lot, this is still Andrews' show as of now.  So the next big update is in San Francisco on March 6.  Mark your calendars.

This all dovetails with a running conversation on a recent Diary about the draft.  One huge question for the team of course is the state of their point guard position.  There's a reasonable doubt given his injury history as to whether the Clippers should count on Livingston to be their starting point guard regardless of what happens this season.  But seeing him reach the court in April would be one more potentially crucial piece of information.  (Back to conflicting motives - if the Clippers' management were able to see him go full speed in practice, without showcasing him for the rest of the league, it would help keep those pesky offer sheets away.)  

(A related aside - there was an interesting post on Hardwood Paroxysm yesterday about the D-League, in which Matt floated the idea of letting NBA players do 'rehab' stints on D-League teams as often happens in baseball.  Of course he used Brand and Livingston to illustrate his point - the Clippers being the one stop shop for injured player examples.  It's an intriguing idea and I would not be surprised to see it happen in the near future.)

As for the likelihood of a full recovery, I have two words for everyone:  Willis McGahee.  McGahee is the only athlete I know of who suffered the same injury - a dislocation and three ligaments torn.  McGahee was hurt in January 2003.  He rushed for 1,100 yards in 10 games in 2004.  He made the Pro Bowl this season.  

What makes Shaun Livingston a rare basketball talent is not his explosiveness or his 'above the rim' finishes.  He has a combination of size, length, handle, court vision, passing ability and basketball savvy that is simply unique.  And none of those things come from his knees.  

The fact of the matter is, I'm less concerned about his left knee than I am about his right knee - or his elbow - or his shoulder - or his hip - or something else.  Given the number of injuries he has suffered, and the disconcerting fact that his knee imploded without contact, one wonders if he's just put together like Mr. Glass from Unbreakable.  You have to take the knee injury as a one in a million fluke and assume something like that will never happen again.  But the overall injury history is a concern, to be sure.

All we can do at this point is wait for the March 6 exam and see what comes next.  But I see no way that he plays in 15 games this season.  My best guess is that he plays no more than 5, if he plays at all.  And that's OK too.